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Quarantine Cuisine: Octopus and Mole Amarillo

Updated: Apr 17, 2020

This week I present a double dose of seafood, because our Fulton Fish Market order was particularly large (so we could trigger the free shipping, don't cha know). Fortunately, my second feature in the Quarantine Cuisine series is another of my specialties and favorite things to cook––octopus.

Now, don't sneer. I have written about octopus on the recipe page before, and I assure you that it is not chewy at all, one of the least fishy things you can find from the sea, and decidedly not gross nor difficult to prepare. It took me a long time to get the balls to learn how to cook octopus, and I am so glad I finally did, because it has become one of my go-to proteins for a versatile, healthy, and spectacular dish.

It will be hard for you to find a fresh octopus, but do not fret. Just buy a frozen one from a reputable monger. Chefs will roll their eyes at me, but a frozen octopus is absolutely fine for your home cooking. A whole octopus will cost you about $25 and can comfortably feed two or three people; think about a pound per person. Or you can count by the tentacle!

You can prepare octopus in a multitude of ways with any number of sauces or accompaniments, but my favorite tend to be Latin American sauces and condiments with either smoky or fresh spices. Chimichurri is a classic, and my go-to for octopus, but this week I decided I wanted to try something a little different: mole.

Mole ("mol-ay," not the burrowing rodent) is a Oaxacan sauce, and there are seven different varieties made of some permutation of chilis, spices, veggies, nuts, seeds, or chocolate. I tried my hand at mole negro, the most classic and well-known of these sauces, a year ago, and decided to go for my favorite, mole amarillo, this time around. As a child of Salt Lake City, I have plenty of experience with mole as a regular at the vaunted Red Iguana, the location of the greatest mole stateside (sorry Guelaguetza).

For a recipe, I went straight to Google and found a straightforward recipe from Rick Bayless, a reliable (but white) source for authentic Mex recipes. I had to do a bit of ingredient subbing here and there (Iowa isn't exactly a place brimming with guajillo chilis and masa harina) but the result was still quite excellent!

I let the mole sauce reduce for a while (took far longer than the recipe indicated) and put the resulting chili paste in the 'fridge overnight for the flavors to meld.

The initial cooking of the octopus is about as hands-off as a dish can get: just boil a big pot of water with a bit of salt, drop the octopus into the water, and cook at medium heat for about 75 minutes, until you can cut a tentacle easily with a butter knife. You can then take the octopus out and cut off the tentacles as close to the corpus as possible and discard the head. I like to take a paper towel and try to get some of the skin off before the next step because when you sear/grill the tentacles, the skin will brown rather than the meat itself if the skin is still on. Others like the crispy skin left on; a matter of preference!

While the octopus was boiling, Mom and I took Maks for a nice walk. It's finally breaching 50 degrees here nearly every day, so we have been enjoying a daily walk, particularly when we can find a spot that avoids the masses of people who are also flocking to the outdoors to enjoy this warm(er) weather and cure their cabin fever! Social distancing is key, y'all.

When we returned, I julienned and seasoned some bell peppers and red onion to accompany the octopus and sautéed them in a little olive oil over high heat until they were slightly browned, but still crisp. Used the same skillet to crisp up the octopus tentacles––season and get a nice brown on either side and you have a stunning protein.

I plated with the mole in the bottom, octopus in the mole, and peppers on top. In retrospect, it would have been a nice idea to let the octopus and veggies cook in the mole for a while before serving, so it really absorbed the flavors––octopus is a chameleon of a protein that deftly takes on the flavors of what it's served with, and simmering it in the mole would have made the dish even more delicious!

We enjoyed the dish very much, and fortunately still have some mole sauce for consumption! I'm thinking chilaquiles for breakfast. Drool.

Even Maks likes octopus!

* * *

Wine to cook by: Three Finger Jack Cab from Lodi. When you think seafood, white wine is the first instinct, but octopus actually speaks more like a land meat on the palate, and so it is customary to pair it with a red. I wouldn't normally go straight for a cab with octopus and a Mexican sauce, but this cab promised silky tannins and a core of baking spices, like those used in the mole. It delivered––allspice and clove came through the concentrated dark fruit, which highlighted the mole, and the body was surprisingly moderate for a California cab. Better yet, it was on sale, and look at the cool bottle!

Upcoming on The Maestro Eats: features on two of our favorite wineries who are now offering discounts during the plague, a review of a couple of Chicago restaurants from February's trip, and the Maestro's favorite way to cook a steak!

Stay safe, healthy, and in your homes, everyone!

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